(Host) Ever give much thought to the number eleven? Well, according to

mathematician and commentator Dan Rockmore, tomorrow would be a good day

for it.

(Rockmore) No, when you wake up tomorrow, your digital

alarm clock won’t be lying and you won’t be seeing double… or triple…

because tomorrow really will be eleven-eleven-eleven. That’s right, it’s

the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year of this

century! So, let’s take a moment to celebrate the number known at craps

tables around the world as "the natural."

First off, eleven

does have some nice mathematical characteristics. It’s a prime number,

meaning that it can only be divided evenly by itself and one. That

already makes eleven something of a rare bird and worth some

recognition. A more interesting fact is that if you can find a number

divisible by 11 – and you then reverse the digits in that number – the

reversed number is also divisible by eleven. So for example, 132 is 11

times 13 and when reversed as 231 we get a number that is 11 times 21.

But

the truth is, dear old eleven is largely overshadowed by those first

ten numbers. Who ever heard of a Top-eleven list? Countdowns start at

ten. Poor eleven, always the odd number out!

Eleven’s outsider

nature is reinforced by its name. Who hasn’t noticed that after we get

through the numbers one to nine, most of the numbers have names that

give a pretty good indication of what they stand for: thirteen – three

and ten, twenty-seven – seven and twenty, two hundred – well, two

hundreds… anyway, you get the picture – or the number as it were – but

where’s the clue in eleven? E-leven – sounds to me like an internet

bread bakery! Why don’t we say something like: ten, one-teen, two-teen,

thirteen…?

Well, in fact, there’s a pretty interesting story in

the name eleven. It comes from the German word "einlif" meaning "one

left," or what ‘s left over after you’ve tried to count to eleven using

your fingers. That’s right, eleven is the number that sends us to our

feet. The same is true for twelve, derived from the word for "two left,"

meaning two left over, and which despite its further suggestion of

looking to your toes, has nothing do with two left feet.

So the

outcast eleven reminds us that the decimal system we use for the

everyday representation of numbers, based on writing numbers as

collections of powers of ten most likely comes from the simple fact that

those earliest of Germanic accountants used their hands as computers,

communicating something like the number of sheep in the flock by using

their fingers, a notion later memorialized in the use of the word

"digit" for each of the places in a number.

My own earliest

memories of eleven are decidedly non-mathematical. I can still recall

puzzling over the mysterious word "Elevenses" that I only later learned

meant the morning snack of bread and honey for dear old Winnie the Pooh

and Paddington Bear.

Hmm. Maybe that E-leven bakery isn’t such a bad idea after all.